Entertainment

Estelle Harris, ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Toy Story’ Star, Has Died at Age 93


Estelle Harris, best known for playing George Costanza’s mother on Seinfeld, and riffing off that character in the Toy Story franchise, has died. Though she only appeared in 27 of the long-running series’s 180 episodes, her performance as the ne plus ultra of crazy sitcom mothers made an indelible impact. She died at 93, only days before her 94th birthday.

Born in New York City to Polish-Jewish immigrants in 1928 as Estelle Nussbaum, she moved with her family at age seven to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, where she reportedly suffered antisemitic taunts but found an outlet in theater projects. She later moved back to New York and married Sy Harris, a “salesman of window treatments,” and put her acting career on hold as she raised three kids. A production of Come Back, Little Sheba on Long Island led to an agent. Prior to Seinfeld she had gigs on a slew of national commercials, as well as a brief appearance in Sergio Leone’s 1984 film Once Upon a Time In America, then guest shots on Night Court, Married…with Children, and Brooklyn Bridge.

Her first Seinfeld appearance was no ordinary episode. It was the water cooler sensation from the fourth season, The Contest, which aired in November 1992. It is ranked sixth of all Seinfeld episodes by Variety, second by the Guardian, and first by Vulture. In it, from a hospital bed, Harris chastises Jason Alexander for engaging in the Sin of Onan with a copy of Glamour magazine. “Treating his body like it was an amusement park,” is, without question, one of the finest line readings in the history of television. And that’s just the beginning of the scene.  

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Mrs. Costanza (the character had the name Estelle before Harris was cast) quickly became a fan favorite, as she screamed about surplus paella, her Waterpik, and her eye for fashion. Opposite Jerry Stiller, Seinfeld’s creators took every stereotype about lunatic T.V. parents of an undetermined ethnic background and expanded them to preposterous levels. Yet no matter how much Harris shrieked or humiliated her son, viewers would find that her torpedos of judgement were still encased in a weird kind of love.  

In 1999, she leant her inimitable voice to the role of Mrs. Potato Head, one of the pre-existing IPs in the Toy Story franchise. Don Rickles voiced Mr. Potato Head solo in the first film, but she joined for the second, third, fourth, and numerous short films. 

On Twitter, Jason Alexander remarked that Estelle’s “glorious laughter was a treat.” He added: “Serenity now and always,” a reference to the great Costanza war cry

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